Most of my gyotaku are of fish I have caught on hook-and-line (see galleries). I love fishing. In the struggle with a strong, magnificent fish, I literally feel infused with the fish’s ki, its life force or spirit. This experience greatly enhances my ability to express the fish’s vitality in the gyotaku.
I use the direct gyotaku method that involves placing paper on top of the inked fish to obtain an impression. I use a variety of inks, including traditional black sumi prepared on an instone, and water-based, color printing inks and watercolors. The inks I use are non-toxic, allowing me to fillet and eat the fish after quickly printing it. The papers I use are imported from Asia – Japan, Thailand, and China – and are thin and flexible, but quite tough. The papers include those made of the inner bark of paper mulberry trees and a shrub called daphne. After the inked impression is made, I paint the eyes, and in a few cases other fine details, such a spots. The final step is adding additional sheets of backing paper to strengthen and flatten the print. This involves carefully moistening the back of the print on a flat surface with a brush and thin, watery paste to remove wrinkles, adding a backing of additional moistened sheets, and drying the backed print face-up on a flat surface (I use a large glass-topped table). In both Japanese and Chinese artwork using these thin papers, this flattening and backing process is considered the essential final step required for completion of the work.
Many of my gyotaku are simple expressions of some theme or topic. On some pieces, I add the inked impressions of stones or aquatic plants. On others, I include calligraphic inscriptions. Written narratives accompany the gyotaku compositions. Many of these are about natural history and conservation, but some are philosophical; others have themes of inspiration and encouragement, and a few even touch on relationships of fish and human culture.